Farmers' Holiday

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The Farmers' Holiday movement arose out of farmers' frustration with the cost of production, low market prices, and farm foreclosures. The movement was formalized through its incorporation in northwestern Iowa in 1932 as the Farmers' Holiday Association. Led by Milo Reno, the fiery former president of the Iowa Farmers Union, the Association aimed to "pay no taxes, permit no foreclosures, stay on the farm until we receive cost of production."1

The Farmers' Holiday Association was formed in order to lead a strike to withhold goods from market in hopes of increasing prices, i.e. taking a holiday. The Iowa Farmers Union (IFU) agreed with the principles, but did not wish to be involved in direct action, so the Farmers' Holiday Association was formed as an activist offshoot of the IFU. Holiday groups incorporated in other states in the upper midwest as well.

Holiday members begin striking in 1932, famously blockading Sioux City to prevent goods from reaching market. The following year, the movement in Iowa turned its attention to stopping foreclosure sales. The goals of the auction demonstrations were to prevent sale, or barring that, to derail the purpose of the foreclosure through a technique known as a "penny sale." At a penny sale, everyone attending agreed to bid very low for the farm, so that bidders would only be out a few cents, the bank would not earn much, and then the winning bidder could return the farm to the previous owner with his debt cleared.2

The movement faded after several high-profile missteps. On April 27, 1933, Holiday members kidnapped and nearly killed a judge for his refusal to promise that he would stop signing foreclosure orders. Later that year, the Farmers' Holiday Association attempted a nationwide withholding action that failed due to disagreement between dairy and corn farmers.3

In its short life, the Holiday movement succeeded in bringing national attention to the plight of farmers, blocking or derailing many farm foreclosures, demonstrated that coordinated action continued to be a successful technique, and forced legislators to address the needs of rural farmers.4

Film clip of Farmers' Holiday participants dumping milk and protesting. (Note: Film clip that is not owned by Iowa State University Library, Special Collections and Archives.)

  • 1. Nuhn, Ferner. “The Farmer Learns Direct Action.” Nation 136 (March 8, 1933): 254–56, reprinted in Center for History and New Media, “‘Like a Thick Wall’: Blocking Farm Auctions in Iowa.” History Matters: The U. S. Survey Course on the Web, 2012.
  • 2. William C. Pratt, “Rethinking the Farm Revolt of the 1930s,” Great Plains Quarterly 8, no. Summer (1988): 131–44.
  • 3. R. L. Cartwright, "Farmers' Holiday Association in Minnesota." MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society. (accessed July 17, 2018).
  • 4. Pratt, "Rethinking the Farm Revot of the 1930s," p. 140